Do Deer Eat Tomatoes And Tomato Plants?

Have you ever walked into your vegetable garden to pluck vine-ripened tomatoes only to come across scenes of damage and destruction? If you have seen a herd of deer ruminating in your neighborhood in the early hours of the morning, there is a good chance the hoofed mammals wandered into your backyard and ravished the plants you have grown lovingly over the summer. Though this begs the question, do deer eat tomatoes?

It’s no secret that the lush green foliage and mouthwatering fruit of tomato plants can make them the biggest attraction of any vegetable garden. Although they are remarkably productive and forgiving of neglect, these plants also require love and care to produce delicious and fragrant tomatoes. Given the amount of time and effort gardeners invest in growing these luscious vines, they may not be too fond of sharing the fruit of their labor with the local deer population.

So, if you are wondering how to identify deer damage and keep the otherwise friendly creatures from having another go at your garden, this guide is meant just for you.

Do Deer Eat Tomatoes?

Deer are likely to devour your tomato plants if they are hungry?
Deer are likely to devour your tomato plants if they are hungry

The answer to this question is both yes and no.

Experts believe deer don’t particularly like the vibrant red fruit, a staple in almost all cuisines worldwide. However, these animals are also not too picky while munching on leaves and soft stems when hungry. In other words, deer will devour almost any plant they come across while looking for food, including your beloved tomato crops.

It is also worth mentioning that a single adult deer can consume up to 12 pounds of vegetation every day. So, if these creatures were likely to spot your tomato plants while peeking into your garden, there is a fairly good chance they will eat the leaves to fill their stomach and may even pull out the roots in the process.

Are Tomato Plants Toxic to Deer?

Tomatoes are a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The leaves, stems, and unripe fruit of these plants contain a compound known as solanine, which can be toxic to humans and animals alike. This substance is also found in chilli peppers, potatoes, and eggplants, among other popular plants.

If a deer eats a few leaves of your tomato plant, it likely won’t cause much damage to the animal. However, ingesting a large quantity of solanine can be harmful to their health. Moreover, a large dose of this chemical compound can be fatal.

Tips on How to Identify Deer Damage

How to identify deer damage
Deer mostly eat the foliage at the top of the plant, though they may also munch on stems in the process

Unless you have seen a herd of deer roaming around your vegetable garden with your own eyes, you would probably have a hard time identifying the creature that ruined your tomato plants at a first glance.

Luckily, there are a few easy ways to find out which animal has been snacking in your garden. All you need to do is survey the area and determine which parts of the plants were attacked. Identifying the culprit would help you take appropriate measures to keep them from causing further destruction.

If you have noticed tiny holes in the tomatoes that are still hanging from the vines, birds are most likely responsible for it. However, if something has nibbled or eaten a chunk of fruit from the top portion of the plant, you may have to keep an eye out for squirrels and chipmunks in your garden. Though they may appear cute, these tiny creatures can wreak havoc on your crops.

On the other hand, if fruits hanging near the ground have bite marks all over them, you may be dealing with raccoons or groundhogs. Make sure to check the companion plants to figure out if these animals have been munching on other fruits and vegetables as well.

However, if the tomatoes appear safe but their leaves are vanishing from the plant, rabbits or moles can be the ones responsible for the damage. Due to their short stature, these animals usually nibble on the lower parts of the plant. Therefore, it is rather easy to tell if a rabbit has been eating the foliage.

While all the creatures mentioned above only devour the fruits of leaves of tomato plants, deer can demolish the entire plant within a few minutes. They may even pull at the plant rather forcefully, which may result in a torn stem. So, if your tomato plant has completely vanished or you find it lying on the ground with or without its roots, you should look for signs of hoofs on the garden soil.

Another sign of deer damage is that these animals usually eat the top part of the plant and step on the surrounding produce while gaining better access to their meal. Since they are relatively large than most other herbivores you may find in your kitchen garden, they also tend to cause more damage than the rest.

How to Keep the Deer Away From Tomatoes and Tomato Plants?

How to keep the deer away from tomatoes
Building a tall fence around your garden is one of the best ways to protect your crops

Once you have identified deer damage, it’s time to create a plan of action. To help you out, we have put together some handy tips on how to protect tomato plants from deer.

Without further ado, let’s take a look.

Install a Fence

Installing a fence around your vegetable garden seems like the most straightforward solution. However, did you know that deer can easily jump over a six-foot-tall barrier to munch on your tomato crops and then leave when they are full?

If you plan to build a fence around your entire garden, it would be best to make it at least eight feet tall to ward off any unwanted visitors. You can even consider installing an electric fence to deter deer and other animals from jumping into your garden. Just make sure the fence only gives off a mild electric shock instead of electrocuting any unsuspecting beings that happen to touch it.

Build a Cage around Your Tomato Crops

Though effective, installing a wooden or electric fence can be quite heavy on the pocket. Therefore, those looking for budget-friendly solutions may want to consider building a small fence or a cage around their tomato plants.

You can make this barrier using a heavy gauge wire and install it around the vegetable patch to protect it from deer. It is also important to cover the make-shift cage from all sides, especially at the top so that deer cannot poke their head into the fence and nibble at the foliage.

Lay Down Fencing Wire

Another trick to keep the deer away from tomatoes is to lay down thick fencing wire flat on the ground. Since deer don’t like to step onto sharp objects, there is a fair chance they will avoid your vegetable garden. While affordable and easy to install, this type of barrier won’t guarantee 100% protection against these non-violent creatures.

Deer Netting Fence

A tough and sturdy mesh deer fence can also be useful in keeping your tomato plants safe from multiple herbivores. These nettings are typically less expensive than conventional fencing materials such as wood or wire. You can also invest in UV-resistant deer mesh to protect your kitchen garden from harsh sun rays during extreme weather conditions.

All you need to do is cover your plants or vegetable patch with this mesh fence. It will keep deer from munching on any plants or shrubs in your backyard while also protecting them from rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, and other common plant-eating creatures.

How to keep the deer away from tomatoes
Building a tall fence around your garden is one of the best ways to protect your crops

Deer Repellent Sprays

Like most other animals, deer also have a sensitive nose. Their extraordinary sense of smell helps them steer clear of predators in their natural habitat. It alerts them of any danger lurking nearby so they can immediately run away to protect their lives.

However, if a herd of deer has started visiting your kitchen garden frequently, it may be time to buy a commercial deer repellant from a nearby garden center or hardware store. These products are engineered to use the animal’s keen sense of smell to ward them off. You can follow the instructions on the label to determine how to spray it around your garden to keep the deer away. 

Alternatively, you can also leave a couple of old shirts, socks, or shoes around your tomato plants to ensure the area is filled with human scent. It may also help deter the animals from venturing into your space.

Furthermore, you can create a homemade deer repellant spray by mixing a small quantity of hot sauce into four gallons of water and spraying it liberally around your beloved plants. You can also replace the hot sauce with eggs. Usually, one egg is sufficient for a gallon of water. Make sure to spray the plants every two weeks or so.

While you may not even notice the smell, we can assure you that it will keep deer at a distance from your garden.

Companion Planting

As we have already established, deer don’t like strong smells. Therefore, planting these popular herbs and plants in the vicinity of your tomato vines will hopefully protect them from experiencing further damage:

  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Rosemary
  • Chili peppers
  • Sage
  • Japanese Boxwood
  • Bee Balm
  • Purple Fountain Grass

Motion-Activated Sprinklers

These devices may be small, but they can be extremely useful.

As the name suggests, motion-activated sprinklers shoot a burst of cold water as soon as they detect any motion in the vicinity. Some devices also emit a loud noise to alert the homeowners about potential intruders. These sprinkles are either battery-run or solar-powered, so you don’t have to connect to them an electric outlet. However, they might require a garden hose to spray water and scare the deer away.

You can buy motion-activated sprinklers from any e-commerce site or a local hardware store. 

Ultrasonic Deer Repellent Device

Last but not least, you can buy an ultrasonic device to protect tomato plants from deer damage. These products are easily available in the market, so you will probably not have a hard time finding them. Just make sure to read the reviews beforehand to ensure you make the right purchase.

These small ultrasonic devices produce high-frequency sound to keep deer and other animals away from farms and gardens. Though humans may not be able to hear the noise, it can be particularly annoying for the deer population.

The only problem with this product is that it may also cause discomfort to your pets. So, if you are a proud owner of a dog or a cat, this may not be the best option for you.


Our Final Thoughts

“Do deer eat tomatoes?” is one of the top questions most beginners ask while planting seeds in their vegetable gardens. The truth is that these animals don’t enjoy the fruit, but they love munching on any leaves they can find. So if they come across your tomato crops, they might end up destroying them completely in an attempt to eat their foliage.

Therefore, to keep the deer away from tomatoes in your garden, consider installing a fence at least eight feet tall or building a cage around your plants. Moreover, you can buy commercial deer repellant spray or make one at home to ensure the animals refrain from making their way into your backyard. Deer netting fences, motion-activated sprinklers, and ultrasonic repellent devices may also come in handy.

For the best results, combine two or more of these methods. They will help turn your garden into a sanctuary for your precious plants.